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Art of Questioning

By posing questions, a philosophical counsellor deepens the dialogue with his guest. The questioning is usually inspired by the Socrates of the early Platonic dialogues, such as ‘Laches’ and ‘Euthyphro’. A radical questioning defies every attempt to define a concept (courage or virtue), ending up with an ‘aporia’: we know that we do not know, a state of mind that can be called philosophical. Starting point is the ‘what-is’ question: repeated again and again until the aporia is reached. The philosophical - ‘what is x’ - questions about being, doing or having actually incorporate the ‘not-knowing’. This not-knowing does not refer to the knowledge of facts. The ‘not-knowing’ refers to an attitude which is a source of questioning the obvious, a detachment from dogmatic knowledge, an impetus for critical thinking, so that there is room for an authentic (re)construction of the guest’s life style. The ‘not-knowing’ opens up possibilities for a guest to look at his questions in a new way. Some people may suffer from posing or sticking to (wrong) questions about unsolvable problems, a fixed past or to an unattainable future. The Socratic approach offers a way out. It takes the guest from one question to another, aiming to end up with a philosophical question. A philosophical question is like a Zen riddle (Koan). A Zen riddle is not to be solved. It (just) serves the training of a contemplative attitude in life. In the same way we can understand the philosophical question. It is a question, not there to be answered. It serves to train a critical attitude in life. (Peter Harteloh, Journal of Practical Philosophy, 2010).

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